By CHRIS CURTIS
It’s been 30 years since the Falmouth Commodores won the Cape Cod League championship. Last summer ended in heart-breaking fashion after a 21-22-1 regular season record, good for second place in the West Division, when they were ousted from the playoffs by eventual champion Cotuit on a walk-off hit that completed a two-game sweep. Now manager Jeff Trundy, returning for his 13th season, and general manager Bob Clark hope a team built on pitching can finally end the long drought.
Sophomore left-hander Christian Jones (Oregon) returns as the leader of the staff after posting a 2.36 ERA last summer and making the all-star team. Jones currently has a 3.73 ERA, with 55 strikeouts in 50 innings for the Ducks. Trundy will also enjoy utilizing freshman Deandre Smelter (Georgia Tech) and Adam Duke (Oregon State). Smelter was drafted in the 14th round last year by the Minnesota Twins, and his mid-90s fastball could be effective against hitters who are adjusting to wood bats. Duke was also a highly regarded prospect out of high school, drafted by the Red Sox in the 16th round last summer, and is known for his polish and ability to attack the strike zone.
Another dimension to this impressive pitching staff will be the seven southpaws on the roster. Jones, Ty Blach (Creighton), Jonathan Dziedzic (St. John’s), Kent Emanuel (North Carolina), Marco Gonzales (Gonzaga), Sean Hagen (St. John’s), and Andrew Heaney (Oklahoma State) will allow the Commodores to neutralize the opponent’s left-handed hitters.
Although the pitching staff headlines the roster, the Commodores also have many solid hitters. Infielder-outfielder Barret Barnes (Texas Tech) returns for his second season and should be a force in the lineup. He hit primarily between the fifth or sixth spot last summer, leading the Commodores with 24 RBIs. He tops the Red Raiders this spring with nine home runs and a .500 slugging percentage. Clark believes Barnes will make the next step to become a more mature and productive hitter this year in the middle of the lineup.
Other power hitters are Jeremy Baltz (St. John’s), Jantzen Witte (TCU), and Matt White (Oklahoma). Baltz has the most impressive résumé of the group, earning first team All-America honors from Baseball America last spring. He is hitting .316 with six home runs this spring.
Another returning veteran, Kyle Von Tungeln (TCU), will use his speed to cover the outfield and create havoc on the base paths. He is a likely candidate to be the leadoff hitter.
It’s difficult to tell how a player’s performance will translate from spring to summer, since hitters have to adjust to wood bats and face aces every night, while pitchers have the task of throwing against the top hitters in the country. If all elements come together for the Commodores, Clark believes they have the talent to bring the first championship to Falmouth since 1980.